How close was the city to not installing supports for the future pedestrian deck over Fort Washington Way?
Cincinnati City Council was prepared to finish the highway reconstruction project without the supports, which are the first step to building a grassy, three-block cover over Fort Washington Way as outlined in The Banks, the plan to build a new neighborhood between the new stadiums. At the Jan. 20 council meeting, however, Councilman Todd Portune lobbied for more time to locate the $10 million needed for the supports, preserving the deck project for a week.
Mayor Charlie Luken, among other council members, said during that council meeting he wasn't willing to use only city dollars to pay for the supports.
"It's just too much to do without partners," Luken said.
But, after a couple of weeks of lobbying by Luken and others -- and several unsuccessful ideas -- Carl Lindner, majority owner of the Cincinnati Reds, came through on Jan. 31 with pledges of $2 million from area business leaders, including $250,000 from the Cincinnati Bengals. County commissioners also pledged $2 million, which represents an about-face by Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus, who said less than two weeks earlier the county would not contribute to the decks project.
Although the deck issue reached a head in January, it first surfaced in mid-December, forcing the Riverfront Advisors Commission (RAC) -- the group that proposed The Banks -- and the city to get financially specific on The Banks quicker than anticipated. Highway engineers learned then that the city could save about $14 million on the highway deck, a key component of The Banks, if it installed the deck supports before Fort Washington Way is finished in August.
The 750 deck supports are expected to cost $10 million, and the total deck project is expected to cost $34 million, if finished by 2005, according to Don Gindling, the city's construction manager for the Fort Washington Way project.
If built later, the cost would have ballooned to $58 million, not to mention the traffic problems from future lane closures. No funding sources have been identified for the remaining $34 million.
Similar responses came from Gov. Bob Taft and Ohio Senate President Richard Finan, although it's still possible the state could help pay for the deck later. The city also unsuccessfully turned to the Hamilton County Park Board, which decided it didn't have the legal authority to spend tax dollars designated for parks on the highway-covering deck.
Finally, on Jan. 26, after lobbying by Portune, Belvedere/Warm Bros., Towne Properties and the Greater Cincinnati Building Trades -- a group representing construction workers -- offered $5 million toward the $10 million goal. Council members and the RAC, however, were not eager to agree to make the group the preferred developer for The Banks, a key stipulation of the offer. That would have essentially handed control of the project over to the Building Trades and their partners.
Then, on Jan. 31, Lindner and the county pledged $4 million, and city council accepted the offer, even though no formal contract had been signed. For this reason, Councilwoman Alicia Reece voted not to proceed with the deck support.
During the two weeks of maneuvering, City Manager John Shirey also did some lobbying, convincing the site's construction crane owners to leave their equipment -- needed to drive the support pilings -- at Fort Washington Way until Jan. 31. The cranes were going to be removed the previous week when they became unnecessary for future highway work.
The Fort Washington Way deadlines are so tight that on Jan. 20 Shirey said the city needed to order $2 million in steel for the deck supports by the next day to keep the highway project moving. City council ignored Shirey's deadlines and continued to search for the $10 million for 10 more days, and the steel wasn't ordered. Construction crews are already working 24 hours a day on the project.
All the extra effort will pay off, according to according to RAC Chairman Jack Rouse. The decks are a key to making The Banks an economic engine, because the new green space will tie downtown to the riverfront and attract much more private investment.
"It's absolutely essential for the park," Rouse said. "It's not a nice little add-on. Could you build The Banks without it? Sure, but don't count on the economic development. And don't count on the financial return."
So, if Shirey's Jan. 20 deadline was not just an arbitrary date, as he says, how will the city make up the 10 days spent lobbying for the $10 million so that Fort Washington Way will be finished in August?
"I don't know," Shirey said.